Black History Boston: Mel King
Melvin "Mel" H. King was born on October 20, 1928, in the South End. Mel graduated from Boston Technical High School (renamed to John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science) and received his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from the Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Claflin University, located in South Carolina in 1950. He received a Masters in Education from Boston State College and then started teaching math at his Alma Mater, Boston Technical High School.
In 1953, Mel left Boston Technical High School to become the Director of Boy’s Work at Lincoln House, which was a settlement house in the South End. He also worked with the United South End Settlements (USES) focusing on providing resources for street gangs. He then founded the Community Assembly for a United South End (C.A.U.S.E.) to give tenants and community residents a voice in their communities.
In 1967, Mel became the director of the Urban League of Greater Boston. He worked on providing job training for the community and organized the community around public school, employment, and human services delivery issues. One year later, Mel organized a sit-in at the office of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (renamed the Boston Planning and Development Agency) to protest a planned parking garage that was going to be built on a site where housing would have to be leveled on the corner of Dartmouth and Columbus Streets.
Mel then organized an occupation of the lot to protest the parking lot. The next day, between 100 and 400 people occupied the lot. They built tents and wooden shanties and put large signs welcoming onlookers to “Tent City”. The Celtics legend, Bill Russell, who owned a South End restaurant, provided food for the protesters. When a housing complex was being dedicated in the same space on April 30, 1988, it was named Tent City in honor of the protest. Mel told reporters that the success of the project was centered in convincing ordinary Bostonians that they had a major role in the development of their neighborhood.
In 1973, Mel was elected as a State Representative for the 9th Suffolk District, where he served till 1982. In 1983, when the incumbent Mayor of Boston, Kevin White, withdrew from contention, Mel ran for Mayor, becoming the first Black person to run for Mayor of Boston. Ultimately, Raymond Flynn would win, but Mel’s leadership and example would encourage future generations of Black people to pursue higher offices.
Mel is a legendary figure within Boston and beyond. His work has spanned decades and his person transcended politics. Mel King is truly an amazing example for the next generation of organizers and leaders of Boston’s Black community. Let’s use his heroic journey and example to foster those budding, young leaders.
Thank you, the Honorable Mel King, for your dedication to the people of Boston!!